Do they disagree?

Would you like to be disliked by as many people as possible? This sentence is a good start, I’ve found:

“I agree with the things you’re saying positively, but I don’t want to deny all the things you’re denying.”

You’d think, very reasonably, that saying this to everyone would in fact be a great way to get along with everyone, to be supremely likeable. If you’re cynical, you might even assume that’s the one reason a person would ever want to say something like this.

But let me tell you, it’s not true. It turns out, in my experience, that people care less about whether you agree with them, than about whether you disagree with their enemies. Isn’t that a fascinating thing?

Let’s take a really obvious example. Say to some people who are politically progressive, “I agree with all the things you’re saying, except that I think conservatives have a lot of wise and worthwhile points too.” Which half of the sentence do you think they’ll grab hold of? Say to conservatives, “All the things you’re saying are true, but the goals of the progressives are legitimate and important too.” Will they walk away feeling like they have a new friend and ally, or a strange new kind of enemy?

Here’s what I’ve found to be a responsible way to begin thinking about a theoretical question: if some very intelligent people have believed a thing, or if a very large number of people have believed a thing, then it’s probably true, or at least largely true. (Note that this applies only to theoretical propositions, not necessarily to practical, factual, or historical propositions.)

This starting point runs aground as soon as we notice that one of the most common kinds of beliefs people have are beliefs that another group of people with different beliefs is stupid and flat-out wrong. We can’t accept that kind of belief into our approach without getting entangled in all sorts of contradictions from the start. So let’s just eliminate those beliefs from consideration, then: all positive, substantive beliefs are likely to be true (or largely true).

This is an amazing approach. Take it for a drive. If what you care about is truth, then this is like a shortcut to being open to learning from everyone who has something to teach. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

If what you care about is being liked by anyone, though, then it’s best to put this idea out of your mind, and try to forget you ever heard it.

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